Loving your inner database: a small rant

Someone asked me the other day ‘how are you finding your fundraising software… because I was talking to [so and so] and she hates it.’

I went away and thought about this. What I was left with was the question: when was the last time someone told me they loved their fundraising database? Then I re-phrased the question to: when was the last time someone told me they loved any database?

People are the most in love with their database when they don’t have it yet. Yes, that’s right. When they don’t have the database, they love it. The ‘new’ database has so much promise. We dream of it curing all the problems the present one has. We peg our hopes and aspirations onto that new database and hope that we don’t end up comparing our situation to pin the tail on the donkey later.

Fundraising databases are particularly dangerous.  I say this because money is involved. I refer not to the purchase price but to the funds the database will generate. I hope someone did a double-take there and re-read that sentence. If you didn’t, let me rewind: ‘the funds the database will generate’. Poor quality fundraising databases can be very costly indeed. They frequently lead to missed opportunities, over-mailing or under-mailing and good old fashioned time delays. However the thought that a database generates money doesn’t sit easy with me. Fundraisers generate money; databases support you to do so. This may seem like quibbling; a pedantic nature, call it what you will. This nitpicking comes from seeing fundraisers promise a new database will turn a ship around when, in reality, it’s going to be a new ship with the same old people doing the same old thing.

Let’s imagine for a moment that there were 3 levels of fundraising software out there. I’ll be really scientific: let’s call them the ‘good’, the ‘average’ and the ‘bloody frustrating.’ The Free the Flamingo Foundation has a ‘good’ database and the Quidditch Mission has an ‘average’ database. In this case, it’s a fair assumption to think the Free the Flamingo Foundation would be faring better. That could well be so, however, we should not forget that an ‘average’ or even ‘bloody frustrating’ database managed well, could easily beat a ‘good database’ managed poorly.  I’m not suggesting that a charity should settle for an average database on the premise that if it’s managed well, all is fine. What I am trying to draw attention to is the role people play in making fundraising databases a success. These ‘things’ that we spend our days using, cursing, ignoring or embracing are a lot like the human brain: we generally only use a very small percentage of them.

So next time someone asks me how in love – or in disgust – I am with my fundraising database because they ‘hate’ theirs, I’m wondering how I can – without offending them – ask whether the database is really the problem? When the database IS the problem, there is nothing for it but the axe. When it isn’t, it’s just sad to watch all the energy of fundraisers funneled in to hating their software, rather than loving their jobs.





Posted on March 21, 2012, in Data, Fundraising, Not for Profit and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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